((disclaimer: I wrote this about two months ago, during a cold spell. I took pictures of each step and meant to put them in here. Long story short, I can’t find the pictures. So, here it is.))
This week, I made a giant pot of comfort food. After Hubbs and I ate some for dinner, I shredded the leftover chicken, mixed it with the sauce, topped it with white rice, and placed it in the refrigerator so I could enjoy the glorious, delicious, heavenly, coma-comfort inducing leftovers all week.
The next night, I reheated some for the kids to try. Sean looked at it. Smelled it. Poked at it with his fork. Then declined to try it. Allie opened her mouth like the shark on a Jaws poster and yelled “UM!” as I placed a spoonful in her mouth. As she chewed, her eyes lit up. She looked at me and smiled. Then yelled and signed “MORE!” as she tipped her head back with her mouth agape.
She ate all of it. Every last bite. And then she hugged me.
My daughter has discovered comfort food, and in my family, comfort food is beancake chicken.
What in the world is beancake — let alone beancake chicken?
This is beancake:
Officially, fermented bean curd. You know us Asians — always fermenting stuff. But hey, its delicious. Like TOFU. And kim chee. Trust us. Its delicious!
Anyway, note the color here. Light brown bean curds in a slightly reddish sauce. THAT is what is important. There’s all kinds of bean curd out there, red-hot fire (dark read sauce where you can barely see the bean curd) and so mild its practically tasteless (watery liquid around the curds, and definitely no red.) So you’re looking for a jar that looks something like the picture on the right. I know, I’m so very helpful.
Now, what is beancake chicken? If you ask the Hubbs he’ll tell you: “It’s just chicken and rice. It’s good, but I don’t know what the big deal is.” The big deal is that it’s home and love in a pot.
Its my grandmother’s house. Its my extended family eating our weekly dinner around a table with Chinese-language newspapers lining the middle for bones. Its laughing with my brother and cousins and sharing stories about our week, or cracking our grandmother up by all four of us spontaneously signing along to a phone commercial in Cantonese. Its us daring each other to eat the black fungus (aka wet afro in a bowl) on Chinese New Year. It’s my oldest cousin challenging my dad to a fried chicken eating contest and almost winning. Its my grandma peeling oranges and apples for dessert.
Its the meal I request whenever my mom asks me what she can make me for dinner. If I’m sick, not feeling good, or just need a hug, I make it. If I were on death row, it would be my last meal.
Its beancake chicken. And I’m sharing the recipe with you.
It’s also one of those “we don’t measure things” recipes, so bear with me.
- Gallon-sized zippy bag
- Soy sauce (1 cup? Probably more, just enough to cover the chicken in the bag.)
- Garlic cloves – chopped (at least 4 cloves)
- Ginger, chopped thick or grated (about 1/2 inch or 1 tsp) (optional)
- Whiskey (1 cap full — as in the cap on the bottle. If you’ve got a Costco-sized cap, Mazel tov!)
- Chicken (I like bone-in, skin on thighs. My grandma uses wings and drumsticks. You basically want dark meat for this, but IF you decide to use breasts — which I don’t recommend — go with bone-in, skin on. TRUST ME.)
- 5-7 Bean curd cubes from a jar, available at any Asian grocery store
- Oil (maybe 2 TBSP) — any kind EXCEPT olive oil
- Cornstarch (optional)
- Green onions (optional)
- Add all marinade ingredients to the bag, remove air, and seal. Marinate the chicken for at least 15 minutes. If you can get 2-3 hours in, that’s even better. But no more than 3 hours. After 3 hours, you’re making soy-sauce chicken (see-yao gai), which is a completely different dish. Turn the bag over every so often to let the marinade soak into the chicken.
- Heat a big-ole pot (I use my gigantic Le Cruset cast iron pot) on medium-high and add the oil.
- Pull the chicken out of the marinade and place it skin-side down in the hot oil. (Reserve about 2 TBSP of marinade) When (notice I didn’t say if) you start to smell the soy sauce burning, add water to the pot, just enough to cover the bottom.
- Cook the chicken until just brown on the outside. You’re not looking for crispy, you’re looking for color. Flip the chicken.
- Mash 5-7 pieces of bean curd (and a bit of its sauce) in a bowl with about 1/2 cup of water until mostly smooth.
- Add bean curd water and about 2 TBSP of the marinade to the pot and then fill the pot with water until the chicken is just covered.
- Turn heat up to high until water boils.
- Once sauce is boiling, turn it back down to medium low, and let it do its thing, occasionally turning chicken. All you’re trying to do here is finish cooking the chicken and letting most of the water evaporate — thickening the sauce. (Turn on your rice in the rice cooker now.)
- When the meat starts falling off the bone, its ready. Maybe … 45 minutes to 1 hour. But you can go longer. On the weekends, I’ll start cooking at 5:30, but Hubbs and I don’t eat until after 8, when both kids are asleep. So instead of turning the heat to medium low after it boils, I just turn it to low and walk away. Still delicious.)
- Taste the sauce. Is it “oh my gawd that’s salty?” Add a cup of water and stir. You should be good now.
- If at this time, there’s still a ton of sauce in there (say, barely covering the chicken), stir 1 tsp cornstarch with some cold water until smooth and add it to the sauce to thicken. Let it boil for 3 minutes to get rid of the raw flavor.
- If you like green onions (Hubbs doesn’t), chop them up and add them the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Serve on a plate with a heaping scoop of white rice and lots of sauce. If you want the real experience, pull all the meat off the bone, mash it into bite-sized pieces, then mix it real good with the sauce and rice so its just one big pile of savory, salty, lick-your-lips goodness.
Bonus Recipe: Asian-style fried chicken.
Take that same marinade recipe and let the chicken go for 3 hours. And then …
- Preheat oven to 250 and place a foil-lined pan (with paper towels on top) in there.
- Heat a tall-sided pot of corn oil on medium.
- When oil is hot, add cornstarch to a zippy bag.
- Take chicken out of marinade, let excess sauce drip off, dredge in cornstarch.
- Put chicken in hot oil. (Carefully!)
- When its golden brown and crispy, pull it out and put it on the paper-towel lined pan in the oven to stay warm/finish cooking while you cook the rest of them.
- Serve with ketchup. YES, KETCHUP.
Also, to help you use up all that delicious bean curd … I present to you the way I got Hubbs to eat green beans:
Pwa-Pwa Green Beans (aka Green beans with bean curd and Bacon)
- 1 lb fresh green beans, washed, trimmed, and cut in half
- 3-4 strips of bacon, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped,
- 2 cubes bean curd, mashed in about 1/2 cup of water
You’re going to love this.
- Put your bacon in a hot pan and cook it until crispy. Remove bacon from pan to paper-lined plate. Try not to eat it/shoo spouse out of the kitchen before he can eat it.
- Drain all but 2 TBSP of bacon fat, reduce heat to medium-low.
- Add your green beans and garlic, stirring as they get crispy.
- Add the bean curd water, mix, and put lid on pot, letting it steam for 3 minutes. (if not enough sauce, add more water.)
- When green beans are cooked (bright green), but still crispy, they’re done.
This goes great as a side dish to the fried chicken. Or anything, really.